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Siberian hamster 101 – characteristics, feeding, health and more

Siberian hamsters have become increasingly popular as pets due to their meekness and sociability. If you are thinking of having one, it is important that you learn about their nature and how to take care of them.

Characteristics

– Order: Rodent.

– Family: Cricetidae. 

– Genre: Phodopus  – short-tailed dwarf hamsters.

– Species: Sungorus.

– Length: 7-11 cm ( 2.7 – 4.3 inches).

– Longevity: 2-3 years.

Other Names: “Russian Dwarf Hamster”, “Djungariano Dwarf Hamster”, “Winter White Hamster”.

The Siberian hamster belongs to one of the 3 species of Phodopus genus:

1) Phodopus Campbell (Campbell Dwarf hamster).

2) Phodopus sungorus (Siberian Dwarf Hamster or Russian Dwarf Hamster).

3) Phodopus Rovorovskii (Rovorovski Dwarf Hamster).

Origin

They are native of the cold regions of Kazakhstan and southwestern Siberia. The first descriptions we have of them date back to 1773, when the German zoologist Peter Simon Pallas described them as mice. In the 1960’s, German scientist Klaus Hoffman focused on the study of these rodents and bred them as a laboratory animals. Just at the end of the 1970’s, they were introduced as pets.

Habitat

Kazajstan steppes

Image / “Carole”.


In the wild, they live in the grasslands of Mongolia, in the sandy deserts and semi-desertic   steppes of Siberia and Kazakhstan, where temperatures can reach up to  -20 ° C (-4 ° F). They dig tunnels which they use as shelter. There, they sleep, they take care of their young and protect themselves from cold temperatures and predators like eagles, snakes, Eurasian eagle owl, and others.

Siberian hamsters as pets

They are very common as pets  in Europe and North America. Due to  their small size, they can easily adapt to apartment life.

They are not aggressive (they rarely bite), they are docile and sociable. However, they are not suitable for children under 10 because, being so small; they can slip   through   their fingers and fall.

 The basic hamster care principles must be applied, such as keeping them busy with games, tunnels, ramps and wheels.  

Physical traits

They are chubby and smaller in size than the Syrian or Golden hamsters (Mesocricetus auratus). Their fur is gray or brown, with a black or dark gray line on their back, an ivory belly, black eyes, gray ears, and paws and short tail. 

 

Size difference between the Sirian (Mesocricetus auratus) and Siberian hamster (Phodopus sungorus)

Image / “Shazz”.


They have sacks (pouches) from their cheeks to their shoulders, where they store large amounts of food which they then transport to their burrows.

 

 

In their wild habitat during winter time, their fur turns white, in response to decreased light intensity and reduced temperatures. This transformation allows them to blend in with the snow and protect themselves from predators.

They are often confused with Russian Campbell Hamsters due to their similar appearance.

Siberian hamster

Siberian hamster

Image / “Astrograph”. 


Campbell hamster

Campbell hamster

Image / “Hamster S.A.”.


Character

They:

Are gregarious, nocturnal and funny animals; also trusting and readily accept human company.

Can live in groups (females and one male) and in couples (male and female), but running the risk of constant reproduction.

Have a greater chance of harmoniously living together if raised since they are young prior to sexual maturity. Two males cannot be together because they will attack each other. 

Color variety

In their natural habitat, their usual fur colors are coffee, gray and white.

Reproduction

They reach sexual maturity when they turn two months old. Female hamsters usually have   litters of six, after a nineteen-day pregnancy period. Sometimes, females get aggressive a few days before giving birth and it is advisable to separate them from males to avoid confrontations.

They are mammals, their mothers feed them for fifteen days and when they turn one month old they become quite independent.

Siberian hamster offspring (2 days old)

Image / “Iphrit”.


When females are a year and a half, they lose their reproductive capacity.

Diet

In their natural habitat, they are omnivorous, feeding mainly on seeds and sometimes larvae and insects.

In captivity, they can eat a variety of foods: a) seeds like corn, barley, sunflower seeds; b) unsalted nuts such as hazelnuts, walnuts, almonds;

Siberian hamster eating

Image / “Mar lena”. 


c) fruits and vegetables (wash them well) twice a week: you must remove leftovers from the cage to prevent them from eating spoiled vegetables. In addition, it will help you keep the cage clean. Avoid canned and frozen vegetables, or sweets. 

To keep them healthy and prevent them from gaining weight, you should offer them small portions.

Health

Hamsters have a good immune system so they generally stay healthy. However, they are very sensitive to stress, low temperatures, sleep disturbance, lack of hygiene of the cage, and poor feeding.

Symptoms that may indicate that your hamster suffers from an illness 

• Hectic and noisy breathing.

• Change in character: inactive, lacking appetite, aggressive, scary.

• Secretions in half closed eyes.

• Diarrhea and moisture in the anal region.

• Hair loss.

• Constipation.

• Excessive salivation and excessive teeth growth.

Frequent diseases

This information only serves as guidance but it will never supply the intervention of veterinarian who is an expert in exotic animals. It is impossible to enumerate all the diseases a hamster suffers, so I selected the most common ones:

– Diarrhea: it can be a symptom of improper feeding or spoiled food eating. In the most serious cases, it may occur asa result of salmonellosis and wet tail.

– Skin diseases:  injuries caused by fungi, mites, fleas, infection and peeling.

– Catarrh: it usually appears when the hamster has been exposed to very cold air currents.

– Occlusion in the pouches: if they find it difficult to empty the food they store on their pouches is because they are clogged with a sweet or sticky type of food. If this happens you should take him to the vet immediately. 

Heat or temperature shock: when exposed to sunlight for a long time, body temperature rises to dangerous levels and if they are not treated in time, they could die. You should immediately take them to a cool place, moisten their mouth with water and fan them.

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